Review: Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

I’ve been sampling audible.com’s Agatha Christie collection for a few months and this week thought I’d listen to something which offers a new (to me) narrator in a new (to Christie) setting.

In a departure from her usual settings Agatha Christie set Death Comes as the End in Egypt around the year 2000BC. It tells the story of a wealthy family headed by mortuary priest Imhotep whose household consists of 3 sons, a daughter recently widowed and various employees and faithful retainers. Having been widowed himself for many years Imhotep returns to the family home from a trip away with a concubine, Nofret. This act seems to trigger an upset in the delicate balance of power and relationships within the household and it’s not long before the body count starts to mount rather alarmingly.

Given that Christie’s second husband was an archaeologist it’s not surprising that she chose this subject to experiment with something new for her writing and I’m sure her access to experts in the field added to the historical accuracy of the setting and lifestyle depictions contained in the novel. And while I did enjoy these details I found the rest of the novel rather flat and uninteresting.

On reflection I think the main reason for this is that the book has no real protagonist and therefore it lacks focus. Ostensibly Imhotep’s daughter Renisenb is, I think, supposed to be the focus of events but she is not a terribly active participant in events and neither is anyone else. The plot really consists of a lot of dialogue in which the household members guess who’s doing all the murdering and pray to the odd god or three. I thought the culprit and their motive fairly easy to pick from the outset and as more and more family members are knocked off it seems blindingly obvious by the end (by virtue of the ‘last man standing’ theory if nothing else).

The thing that I have enjoyed most about my recent re-discovering of Christie’s novels is that the very best of them are clever classic’ whodunnits that stand the test of time and have at least one or two engaging characters who advance the plot in interesting ways. I’m afraid that, for me anyway, Death Comes as the End had neither of these key elements as in addition to the fairly pedestrian plot the characters were fairly one-dimensional and not up to her usual standards. And while I’m sure the historical details included here are accurate even they do not go far enough to allow total immersion in the period (I’d recommend the Egyptian series of Paul Doherty or Wilbur Smith if you want to lose yourself in ancient Egypt).

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My rating 2.5/5

Narrator Emilia Fox; Publisher Harper Collins [this edition 2006, original edition 1945]; ISBN N/A; Length 7 hours 11 minutes

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6 Responses to Review: Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this thoughtful review. I know exactly what you mean about Christie’s other novels (i.e. there’s a specific protagonist and a very engaging puzzle). And as big a fan of Christie’s as I am (and I am!), I have to agree that this is not her best. I admire her for trying something new, and for experimenting, as I think many authors are unwilling to do that. However, I agree that this story isn’t as absorbing as some of her others.

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  2. kathy durkin says:

    Thank you for the review. I’m not an Agatha Chrystie fan, was when I was first reading mysteries. Poirot, along with Holmes, Wolfe and Mason (Perry) were detectives I followed, but lost interest in her books, after reading a bunch with the Belgian crime solver, and didn’t like some of her stereotypes

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  3. Jade says:

    I love Agatha Christie to bits, but haven’t read this particular title… the premise just seemed so very unappealing.

    I would argue that Poirot is definitely the most entertaining and complex of her protagonists. I love how he deals with 40’s English racism, especially in the TV adaptation, which I think is one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve seen in a while.

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  4. Pingback: The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge Carnival (and other Agatha-related items) « Books to the Ceiling

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am a big fan of Agatha Christie…and I dont think that this novel was boring or unappealing…Think of this novel as an experiment of Agatha Chrstie’s,for me Death Comes As The End is an interesting novel with lots of important elemnets to make heart beats race…and the reason given for the criminal doing murders is also very thoghtfull…and touching.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    This is the only book set in the 20th century and is also based on her own experience…as a result we get a book that is full of suspense,mystry,and thrill…..this is a must read!

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